Why Play?

We all know it and the research supports it – children are happiest and at their most vital and energetic when they play.

Why Play?

Children play their way to learning

Children want to play. Children play everywhere – in their homes, neighbourhood and schools.  Even in very difficult circumstances – in poverty, in war zones, children can be seen playing. We all know it and the research supports it – children are happiest and at their most vital and energetic when they play.    


Why play?

Play is considered so important to a child’s development that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) has established it as every child’s right. It is the child’s way of making sense of the world – a learning tool that engages, motivates, challenges and pleases. Children are born with an innate drive to learn – they want to be seen as smart, intelligent and capable people who can do things, who know things and who are well connected with family and friends. Play gives them an opportunity to demonstrate all that they have observed and learned about the real world and at the same time the opportunity to experiment with how they can make that learning useful in their own world.    


Evidence from research

The most recent neuroscience or brain research confirms the power of play for brain development. The brain grows fastest in the first 5 years of life and the wiring of the brain makes multiple and complicated neuron connections that in many ways decide our future ability to learn, achieve and be happy.  Play helps the brain to make these connections because it allows free reign to the imagination and consequently children can engage in new experiences, activities, roles and relationships on an on-going basis. Play is not about completing one task at a time but about dealing with multiple tasks such as relationships, activities, problem solving, other peoples’ ideas and creating companionship and enjoyment, all at the same time. In this way, play strengthens and supports the connections between the neurons of the brain and provides a rich opportunity for children to grow and develop.    


Play in Aistear and Síolta, the national curriculum and quality frameworks

The research is so clear about the benefits of play that in Ireland we have established play as central to the early childhood curriculum. Both Aistear, the national curriculum framework from the National Council For Curriculum and Assessment, and Síolta, the national quality framework from the Dept. of Education, emphasise the importance of play in the home and in early education settings. Aistear tells us that engaging in play is good for children’s health and well-being.  It is a way of creating community so that children develop a sense of identity and belonging.  It is a way of communicating and exploring and thinking.  These, Aistear tells us, are the most important learning outcomes in early childhood.    


Play in early childhood care and education services

Children need companionships, time, space and materials to play. In preschool settings, we provide these:

  • We plan the play space so that children can choose where, what and with whom they want to play.
  • They have easy access to props and materials that they can use to develop their ideas, experiment, design, build, create stories and stretch their imaginations and skill.
  • Adults are there as an additional resource.  They offer help and guidance when required and use the many opportunities that a playful environment offers to promote learning.

  When you walk in to a playgroup setting where children are learning through play you will see them play with sand, water, bricks, paint, puzzles, books. They will be talking, laughing, reading, writing, building, dancing, singing and most of all they will be pretending – pretending to be a mother or father or child, pretending to be a builder, an engineer, a shopkeeper, a hairdresser, learning from one another and showing us all how competent they are and what they have learned about the world around them. For this reason, Vygotsky (1933) tells us that in play the child is a head taller than him/herself.


Children speaking about the importance of play 

Below is a video Toy Industries of Europe (TIE) made in conjunction with Early Childhood Ireland which asks children what they think about play.

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